I admit that I’ve been dragging my fee a bit on typing up Egypt, not because the burger caused me any problems or because I have any doubts about the recipe, but because of the write up about the country. There is so much going on in Egypt right now, it’s hard to know where to start. But let’s get the basics down…
Egypt is located mainly in Northern Africa with an additional land bridge into Southwest Asia. With 82 million inhabitants and a civilization dating back to 3200 BC, there is so much that can be said about Egypt, it boggles the mind. So I’m going to “pick my choose” as my mother-in-law would say. Personally I’ve always been fascinated by Egypt. My father, had he grown up in a different environment, would probably have been an archeologist. He’s always been interested in history and ancient treasures. Because of that, I grew up watching documentaries on Egypt and hearing lots of stories about ancient Pharaohs. I used to dream of exploring the pyramids and discovering ancient tombs – then I found out that you don’t get to keep the treasures and discovered that I hate desert climates, and decided archeology wasn’t for me.
Now, fast forward to modern times and things get complicated. The New York Times has a great online article that they update regularly with information about the happenings in Egypt. Just a note, if the New York Times sets up an ongoing article about your country, things might be a little too interesting where you live. My information comes from that article and from the CIA World Factbook and I’m going to just cover the highlights.
In January of this year, the turmoil in Tunisia inspired protests in Egypt. Egyptians were protesting the rule of Hosni Mubarak and the lack of free speech, police brutality, lack of free elections, and high unemployment among other things. Mubarak addressed the country twice with pledges to change and reform, but no one believed him (well, maybe a few people did, but most people didn’t), and amazingly on February 11th (day before my birthday), Mubarak’s resignation was announced.
More than ten months later, elections were finally held (after violence and protests erupted over the summer and early fall). As of today, final elections are taking place and it looks like Islamists will be ruling Egypt for a while. Let’s just hope that the people of Egypt find peace, freedom and prosperity with their new government.
So, enough of the politics, what about the food? Food in Egypt is richly spiced and flavored, whether it’s garlic or spices, the food is super flavorful. While clearly meat is available in Egypt, they also have a rich tradition of vegetarian cooking. Since I’m a huge falafel fan, I decided this was a great opportunity to try my hand at falafel making. For some crazy reason I also decided to try making a home pita bread. The falafel was easier than I thought and the texture and taste turned out perfect. Egyptians use fava beans rather than garbanzo beans in most of their dishes – the texture is different, less dry and meatier, and the flavor is beanier and a little less nutty. Unfortunately, I had trouble finding fava beans for this dish, so I used small lima beans for the falafel and butter beans for the Ful Mesdames – both are pretty similar to fava beans. For the falafel, you’ve got to use dried beans, I know, what a pain, but it makes a huge textural difference. I tried a falafel mix just to see how good the mixes are, and I was pleasantly surprised. The color of the mix was horrible and the texture was a bit mealy, but the flavor was pretty good. If you don’t care much about texture or appearance and are desperate for a quick falafel, try a mix, they don’t stink.
Ful Mesdames is an extremely common dish in Egypt – its basically mashed beans with garlic. For this, I used canned beans because I wanted the softer texture. They worked perfectly. What didn’t work quite as perfectly was the home made pita. Egyptians eat a thick pita type bread called Eish Masri. It’s a really simple bread to make. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get mine to brown, so it doesn’t look as nice as I’d like, but it tasted a lot better than store bought pita, so I stuck with it. If you don’t want to try making Eish Masri at home, use store bought naan, it’s so much better than the store bought pita and closer to the flavor texture that you’ll want for this dish.
I thought between the falafel, Ful Mesdames and pita that this dish would end up way to starchy, but the lemon, garlic and olive oil balanced it out and the result was a very fresh and flavorful “burger”. I love falafel and I’m so glad that now I’m not intimidated by it. All of the elements of this dish were even better the next day – mix everything up, then let it sit in the fridge overnight, then all you have to do is fry up your falafel and you’re all set.
½ pound dried small lima beans
1 small onion chopped
½ leek stalk chopped (white and light green parts only)
4 cloves garlic chopped
½ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
3 Tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons salt
Peanut oil for frying
4 Eish Masri (recipe below)
Ful Mesdames (recipe below)
Yogurt sauce (recipe below)
Rehydrate the beans using the package directions (I use the stovetop method because I never remember to set them up ahead of time). You want the beans to still have some texture to them; so don’t cook them to death. Drain the beans and place them in a food processor with the onion, leek, garlic and parsley. Pulse until you get an even texture. Add flour and salt and mix until combined. Check your mixture and make sure that it sticks together when you squish it in your hand.
I have no idea why my hand looks so pink in this photo – the food looks fine, that’s what counts.
Cover the mixture and refrigerate until ready to use. Form four balls from the bean mixture and smoosh them down into patty shape. In a large non-stick skillet pour ¼ inch of peanut oil. Heat until shimmering. Place the patties in the oil and fry 3-4 minutes per side over medium high heat until you get a nice brow on both sides.
Slice each Eish Masri in half and grill each half in peanut oil until lightly brown. Place one slice of Eish Masri on each plate then add a scoop of Ful Mesdames, some sliced tomato, the cooked falafel, some yogurt sauce and top with the last slices of Eish Masri.
2¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
½ cup warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
1½ cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
Combine yeast, ¼ cup water and sugar and let sit for 10 minutes to proof the yeast – if you get some foam at the end, you’re good, if you don’t then your yeast isn’t any good or your water is too hot or cold – try again! Put the flour in a large bowl and create a well in the center. Add the yeast mixture, then add more water a little at a time until you get a dough ball. Knead the dough for 10 minutes. Place the dough in a warm place and let it rise until doubled (about 1½ hours). Divide the dough into 4 balls then let them rest ten minutes. Smoosh the balls flat (about ½ inch thick). Place the disks on parchment paper lined baking sheet and bake at 350˚F for 10 minutes until cooked through. These will store overnight in a plastic bag or airtight container.
Place all ingredients in a medium bowl and mash with a hand masher or fork (you want a chunky mixture, so don’t go crazy mashing). Adjust lemon and salt to taste. Refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to use. This is best used at room temperature, so take it out of the refrigerator about an hour before you want to use it.
1 cup 2% Greek yogurt
½ cup grated cucumber
Zest of ½ lemon
¼ cup finely chopped fresh mint
Salt to taste
Place all ingredients in a glass bowl and mix together – taste and adjust salt as needed. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
©Copyright 2011 Linda Monach